Active learning in science labs makes the content come to life! A highly effective science teacher understands that planning hands-on learning experiences for students is a critical part of applying science ideas and building understanding. However, teachers must thoroughly and carefully prepare safe science experiments, to ensure the safety of their students. Establishing classroom safety standards is important at all grade levels but in the primary grades it requires additional consideration. Reviewing guidelines with students and posting them in a visible place in the classroom should be your first order of business.
Sample guidelines for any grade level may include:
- Listen to instructions carefully.
- Read any written directions twice before beginning.
- Use only the materials needed for this experiment.
- Follow the directions one step at a time.
- Ask for help if you are confused or don't understand.
- Tell your teacher immediately if there is a problem or accident.
- Clean your work space carefully when you're finished.
Obviously these are general guidelines that may work in a variety of classrooms. Effective science teachers will modify any safety standards to fit classroom needs for primary grades. Modifications may include pictures or symbols for non-readers, role playing to understand guidelines, or safety contracts sent home to be signed by both students and parents.
In addition to guidelines expressly designed for students’ use at all grade levels, it is important for a teacher to follow additional guiding principles for planning safe science experiments in the primary classroom:
- Choose your materials wisely. Avoiding glass, flames, and possible chemical reactions is crucial. Primary students are still learning how the world works and may have low impulse control. Eliminate potentially hazardous materials for optimum safety in the K-5 classroom.
- Have an emergency plan. No science teacher wants an experiment to end up as a dangerous situation, so planning ahead for all possible scenarios is incredibly important. Practicing and thinking through every possible outcome to ensure an appropriate response will provide peace of mind and increase safety. Role-play some of these possible scenarios with students.
- Understand student needs. Students come to school with a variety of needs including mobility issues, allergies, and behavioral challenges. Investigating how these needs may affect safe science experiments will impact not only an individual's participation but the safety of the class as a whole.
- Increase supervision. Many science experiments could benefit from an extra set of hands to help students. Teachers may also want to find ways to beef up supervision during experiments in the primary classroom. Enlist the help of parent volunteers, older students, or other staff members!
Safety guidelines have been developed by different organizations that promote science education. You can access a variety of these online:
Safety in the Science Classroom (National Science Teachers Association)
Science and Safety: It's Elementary (Council of State Science Supervisors)
Safe Science Series (National Science Education Leadership Association)
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